South Island, New Zealand :
South Island, New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide with Kids
Our Trip to New Zealand: The Video!
Getting to the South Island:
Most international carriers to the South Island fly into Christchurch but some do go into Queenstown as well (mostly from Australia). Many international travelers connect in Auckland or Wellington in the South Island and take the ferry over. Once you are in the South Island, the preferable way to make your way around is by car. For more details on getting to the South Island, click here.
By the time we were planning NZ, Karam was 11 months old and was not interested in taking long car rides. So despite the fact that New Zealand has some of the most beautiful and scenic rides in the world, we decided to drive partly and fly a bit, to reduce time in the car.
Here's what we did:
- Flew Sydney-Christchurch: short and uneventful flight.
- Drove CC to Kaikoura: Pleasant 2.5 hour drive. We planned it around Karam's nap time so he literally opened his eyes as we pulled into the inn.
- Drove Kaikoura to Blenheim : Short 1.5 hour drive that brought us into the wineries just in time for lunch
- Drove Blenheim to Nelson: 1.5 hour drive that was completely avoidable. Nelson is a small, unremarkable town. Our purpose for visiting was catching a flight to Queenstown which could have happened from Blenheim.
- Flew Nelson to Queenstown: 1.5 hour flight, very manageable!
- Day trips from Queenstown to Wanaka and Central Otago wineries - Perfect driving distances, left after breakfast, made it back in time for dinner.
- Flew Queenstown to Christchurch: Stayed overnight in airport hotel
- Flew Christchurch to Sydney!
Cons to our approach: More expensive than just driving (domestic flights were NZ 200 each), we missed out the whole of the west coast (glaciers, etc.), and wasted some time waiting for flights, driving to airports, etc.
However, Karam had a perfectly comfortable time and gave us no trouble at all. So it was a good experience from that standpoint. We'll just have to go back when he's older to do it the right way!
South Island, New Zealand -What to do with Kids:
It was my trip to New Zealand that actually prompted the launch of MomAboard. There was so much to do and consider that I was absolutely lost. In the end, here are the things we did that I'd recommend:
- Christchurch: Although there is not much to actually do in Christchurch (except go punting), it's likely that your flight will come in through here. Spend a night to get acclimated and move on.
- Kaikoura: From Christchurch, rent a car and drive to the beautiful seaside town of Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for its whale-watching, seal colonies and beautiful hikes. We had one of the most memorable experiences in Kaikoura with Wings over Whales, where you get to fly over the ocean and get a complete aerial view of whales. Naturally they cannot guarantee a sighting - we were unfortunate not to see one the first time, but they took us back for free the next day and we did indeed see the glorious creatures! Our son was 11 months at the time and they were happy to have him in the plane, so it's up to you as a parent to decide how young you're ok with them being. We stayed at the Anchor Inn known for its view but the one-bedroom we got is the only room without a view, so make sure you ask! The place in general was clean and tidy, with bright colors and lighting making it cozy and comfortable. They don't have any dining room so you need to cook for you and bub or try some of the restaurants a few minutes away (all great food and very baby-friendly places!).
3. Marlborough: From Kaikoura, it's a short 1.5 hour drive to one of New Zealand's best wine regions, Malborough. We visited world-famous wineries such as Cloudy Bay and Nautilus and even shipped a bunch of wines back home. I may be a bit biased because I believe that wineries are amongst the most baby-friendly places in the world: open spaces, crisp air, fresh produce and mum just a little bit tipsy! The Vintner's Retreat in Blenheim was an amazing place from which to explore the Marlborough region. Each two-bedroom villa has a huge living room, washer/dryer, private patio with bbq and large gardens overlooking the wineries. Mind you, you pay the price (NZ 400 as opposed to the above places which were closer to NZ 150), but then again, you get more space and more quality. Highly recommended for larger families!
4. Nelson: We could have flown from Blenheim to Queenstown but instead we went through Nelson which is a small and rather unremarkable town. If you do stay in Nelson, you should visit the Abel Tasman National Park which is a paradise for nature lovers.
5. Queenstown: Given that our baby was young, we didn't want to spend too much time in the car so we decided to fly from Nelson to Queenstown, an easy 1.5 hour drive. Queenstown is the highlight of the South Island. The town is graced by the mountain range aptly named The Remarkables and the second cleanest lake in the world, Lake Wakatipu. The scenery is simply magnificent. If that's not enough, Queenstown has much more to offer. In the winter it's a popular ski resort but in the summer one can enjoy the beautiful views of the lake sipping on a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from one of many cafes and restaurants in downtown Queenstown. Queenstown is also known as the adventure capital of the world. In fact, bungee jumping was invented here! You can sky dive, parasail, hang glide and engage in many more adrenalin-pumping activities here. For those who prefer a slower pace of life, the Central Otago wine region is a mere 30 minutes away and makes some of the best Pinot Noirs in the new wine world. Our favorite was Mount Difficulty.
Milford Sound and Franz Josef Glacier: Since we didn't want to do the 5 hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, we decided to spring for the airplane trip which is significantly shorter, but much more expensive. What we didn't know was that it is also very subject to weather. On the day of our departure we were able to take off and land in the Sound but we couldn't stick around very long because our plane had to take off immediately or risk being stranded. Our pilot very kindly gave us a rather extended scenic tour on the way back to compensate, which meant lots of drops and curves! If you're going to do the Sound with a baby, try breaking journey in Te Anau, which is a closer drive than Queenstown. Resist the temptation to take a bus as they tend to get stuck in traffic on the narrow road in the evening, when most people are headed back.
Franz Josef Glacier is one of the most impressive sights on the South Island but it does involve hiking around the glacier and we were advised not to try it with a baby. It's one of the many reasons we need to go back to this beautiful country.
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